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Equality Ride to visit Eastern

The Equality Ride is scheduled to visit Eastern in late April. The Ride is organized by Soulforce, a Christian gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights group. It will be visiting 20 religious and military schools that they feel have discriminatory policies toward homosexuals.

Many of the schools that were targeted are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), including Azusa Pacific University and Wheaton College.

“Soulforce became convinced that colleges within the CCCU are bad places for ‘young Christians deciding to come out,’ and they felt a need to say something to us in a very strong way,” President David Black said.

Eastern was contacted by Soulforce after they deemed the school’s policies discriminatory against homosexuals.

“A heterosexual student at Eastern University can date, fall in love and commit their lives to someone while a gay person does not enjoy that right,” Soulforce spokesperson Kate Riley said in an email interview.

However, according to Bettie Ann Brigham, Vice President for Student Development, Eastern accepts students who struggle with sexual orientation.

“We will not expel a gay student like some schools do, but try to help them deal with this difficult issue in a Christian way,” Brigham said.

Because of Eastern’s reputation of being less judgmental, President Black was surprised that Eastern’s name came up but accepted the Equality Ride’s visit.

Other schools such as Liberty University and Brigham Young warned that members of Soulforce could be arrested if they attempt to visit. But at Eastern, the faculty are being invited to host the riders overnight.

“I considered it an opportunity to dispel some of the misperceptions that Soulforce has about our community,” Black said. “Any group which has a very negative impression of evangelicalism needs to spend time with our faculty and students.”

Brigham has been corresponding with Soulforce and was asked to help prepare the Eastern community for this event.

“One thing that Eastern does well is prepare our students for issues in the real world,” Brigham said.

“It’s a good opportunity to be exposed to a point of view that is very different than Eastern’s,” she added.

The Equality Ride has aroused some controversy surrounding the nature of their presentations.

“Some people worry that the visit and the emotions surrounding it will unduly pressure some students to come out and at the same time cause other students to become more strongly condemning towards homosexuals,” Black said.

However, Soulforce has repeatedly told Brigham that is not the group’s intention to out anyone but rather to educate and change policies.

“We seek to move beyond stereotypes and caricatures that are held on both sides of the debate in order that Eastern students and riders can get to know each other on a one-to-one basis,” Jacob Reitan, co-director of Soulforce, said in an email.

Brigham believes that they are being very earnest and trusts that they will use tact and not abuse this opportunity.

Black expressed concern about the media blowing this event out of proportion, resulting in thousands at the gates of Eastern.

“If we’re not careful, the visit could turn into a large media event,” Black said. “That is not their intent and certainly not ours.” He hopes that the student body will act maturely and peacefully even though the group is coming on the eve of finals week.

Reitan hopes that the Equality Ride will help students understand the issue by making it more personal.

“After all, Christianity should be about inclusion, love and understanding, not about exclusion, discrimination and fear,” Reitan said.

More information on the Equality Ride:

Eastern is the second-to-last stop on the ride, before the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and after Wheaton College.

The Equality Riders will be visiting schools from March 10 to April 26, starting with Liberty University in Virginia.

Other schools include Regent University in Virginia, Biola University in California, Colorado Christian University, Texas A&M University and North Central University in Minnesota.

The Equality Ride Web site says that “the members of Equality Ride will bring hope and healing to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students who are forced to live and suffer in closets of fear on their college campus. The Equality Riders will reveal to the public the hardship these students face and make clear the need for change.”

Source: equalityride.com

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